Pregnancy discrimination is one of the most common claims pursued by the EEOC. In fact, the EEOC has stated in its Strategic Enforcement Plan that one if its top priorities is to “to address emerging and developing issues … including issues involving the ADA and pregnancy-related limitations.”
In light of this focus on pregnancy-related claims, employers should take steps to avoid the mistakes made by these two employers.
Moonshine Whiskey Bar
In May of 2016, the EEOC obtained a $66,000 judgement against the Moonshine Whiskey Bar in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.
As evidence in support of its case, the EEOC produced a recording wherein one of the bar’s owners admitted that he was terminating this employee because of her pregnancy. Specifically, the owner stated,
“There’s going to be a whole number of people that I would be offending by allowing a pregnant person to be behind the bar. They might look at it as the owner’s a f—ing idiot they’re letting a girl that’s pregnant that could get injured behind the bar bartending right now. How irresponsible are those guys?”
This case serves as a reminder to all employers that they need to curb their paternalistic tendencies when working with their pregnant workforce. Simply put, women must be allowed to make their own decisions about working while pregnant – the employer cannot make that decision for them.
Landis Homes Retirement Community
Also in May of 2016, the EEOC settled a pregnancy discrimination claim it had raised against Landis Homes Retirement Community for $132,500.
In this case, the employer refused to accommodate a pregnant employee when she requested an accommodation to lift no more than 25 pounds. This request by the pregnant employee was denied even though the employer had granted similar requests for accommodation of non-pregnant employees.
Instead of accommodating the pregnant employee, the employer placed the employee on an indefinite leave because of her pregnancy and disability and told her to re-apply after she gave birth and no longer had any medical restrictions. However, when Potts sought rehire after having her baby, the company refused to rehire her and engaged in an unlawful medical inquiry.
In commenting on this case, the EEOC district director warned, “Employers must be aware of the intersection between the ADA and Title VII’s pregnancy discrimination prohibitions. This settlement should prompt all employers to review their reasonable accommodation policies and practices now to make sure they are compliant with both laws.”
Take home message for employers
Employers must remember that the EEOC is targeting disability and pregnancy discrimination cases. Before taking any type of employment action against a disabled or pregnant employee, employers must act with caution and be sure they are not succumbing to myths and fears about disabilities or pregnancy and, more importantly, not attempting to “protect” a pregnant employee or her unborn child without her input.